Are investors really trying to buy FIFA competitions?
April 11, 2018
Media reports suggest that investors have offered FIFA billions to buy two competitions. Details are sketchy, but if the deal reportedly on the table comes to fruition, it could bring major changes to global football.
Where did all this speculation start?
According to reports by a number of media outlets, Gianni Infantino, the president of global football's governing body, informed members of the FIFA Council at a meeting last month of an offer made to the organization by a group of Middle Eastern and Asian investors. The reports, which cite unnamed sources with direct knowledge of the meeting held in Bogota, Colombia, said the group had offered FIFA $25 billion (€20.2) for the rights to an expanded Club World Cup and a proposed Global Nations League. The sources cited said that the investors were demanding a quick answer and that Infantino had asked the Council to give him authorization to press ahead with the proposal. However it declined to do so, in part due to a lack of details provided. FIFA has declined to comment on the report, as has the German Football Association (DFB), whose president, Reinhard Grindel, was at the Bogota meeting. However, on Wednesday, the European governing body (UEFA) confirmed that Infantino had spoken of an offer, but provided no details. UEFA declined to comment further.
Who and what could be behind the offer?
The New York Times article refers simply to a Middle East-Asian group of investors, but the Associated Press cites unnamed sources who said Saudi Arabian, Chinese and American investors were behind a proposed 12-year deal in which FIFA would hold 51 percent of a joint venture. The investors would guarantee revenue of $25 billion over that period. According to German broadsheet the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), the Council members were promised that FIFA officials would draft a document providing more information on the proposal, but they still haven't received anything. It said that some Council members were left wondering whether the proposal even existed in the first place. Infantino reportedly explained his lack of candor on the matter by saying he had committed to a non-disclosure agreement.
How would the Club World Cup change?
According to the reports, the unidentified investors are seeking the rights to a FIFA Club World Cup that would be expanded from its current annual format featuring the six continental champions and the host nation. The reformed event would be operated in a similar format to the World Cup, held every four years and include at least 12 clubs from Europe. Although it doesn't identify Saudi Arabia and China as being behind the investment group, the New York Times report says the plan would be to bring the tournament to those two countries. It could replace the Confederations Cup, which is held in the summer before a World Cup. The thinking behind expanding the Club World Cup is that it would be much more lucrative than in its current format. The last one, hosted by the United Arab Emirates late last year, drew an average of just 16,500 spectators to its games.
What about the Nations League?
The Global Nations League could become an extension of the UEFA Nations League, which is to begin play this coming September. UEFA is reported to have won support from the other five continental federations to join forces for a first Global Nations League, one that would feature teams from all over the globe and would start in 2021. Infantino had initially been against the idea, but FIFA and UEFA are now said to be working together on trying to make it happen. It too could be held instead of the Confederations Cup.
What would the deal, if consummated, mean for FIFA?
The deal would be a major financial shot in the arm for FIFA, restoring profits and revenue to an organization damaged by its 2015 corruption scandal. The organization's financial reserves are said to have dwindled from $1.5 billion just after the 2014 World Cup to $900 million currently. It would also help Infantino deliver on one of the promises he was elected on in 2016, which was to increase revenue. He happens to be up for re-election next year.
It would also mark a major departure from how FIFA has done things up until now. Never has the world governing body sold rights to an outside party to stage its events, preferring instead to restrict itself to selling media rights and the like.
Where does it go from here?
Infantino told a press conference following last month's meeting in Bogota that discussions on the future of global club competitions would continue and were to be discussed at the next meeting of the FIFA Council, to be held in Moscow in June.